Turns out climbing back on top of the mountain is a lot harder than getting there the first time.
Tiger Woods’ return hit a muddy patch late Saturday afternoon, gasping to a two-under-par 70 and an eight-under overall score after impressive, four-birdies-in-five-holes start that made even old timers start wondering if maybe this guy was plugging into some long-lost mojo. With every long putt and sand save, every bombed drive and dart-accurate pitch, the years seemed to melt away and Woods seemed the Tiger of old.
COMING BACK IS NOT EASY
Woods was playing with Rickie Fowler Saturday, but he could have been playing with Mickelson, or Els, or Garcia, or Norman, or Watson, or even Nicklaus, any of the greats whom Woods had sized up and beaten head-to-head. He was playing in front of galleries of a few dozen, but it wasn’t hard to call up the images of him pulling off these kinds of shots in front of thousands stacked 20 deep. Nobody said this comeback would be easy, but Woods was making it look that way as he made it around the front nine in 32.
And then, well … I guess reality showed up. Reality reminded Woods that he may have 14 majors, but the last one came when his playing partner Saturday was a freshman in college; reality reminded Woods that he’s 40 and not yet in tournament shape. Woods played the final six holes in three-over par, two bogeys and a closing double, the bleeding only halted briefly with a 40-foot birdie putt on 17.
Walking 18 holes, mostly over sand that’s as thick as snow, is an arduous task, and Woods’ conditioning isn’t yet up to the task. His numbers show it: he’s 12 strokes worse on the back nine (2-over) than the front (10-under). The 18th hole alone he’s gone double bogey-par-double bogey. And while he wasn’t about to cop to being tired after Thursday’s round, on Saturday he accepted the obvious.
NOT AS FRESH
“I’m definitely not as fresh as I would like to be,” he said. “No matter how much you work out, it’s very different than being in playing shape.”
And even being in playing shape doesn’t mean you’re tournament-ready. “Nothing’s quite the same as playing and the waiting and the grinding and the wind and getting the numbers right and camera phones going off and people moving,” he said. “These are all different things that you can’t simulate at home.”
Woods indicated that he’s already exceeded his own expectations, if only because he didn’t have many coming in. “I hadn’t played in a very long time and I didn’t know what I was going to feel like after each round,” he said. “What happened to Rosie [Justin Rose, who tweaked his back and had to withdraw Friday] could have easily happened to me.” That would have been an ugly sight indeed, Woods withdrawing from a tournament once again after all the buildup. And if that was on the table, Woods will have succeeded just by playing all four rounds.
He is still my favorite golfer – i will always be his greatest fan. Kudos for getting through 3 rounds so far – it isn’t easy but you did it.